My teaching approach
Essay, Assignment Day 5
My personal approach to teaching English as a second language.
As I have been able to learn throughout this week is that the acquisition of a language is performed and achieved in many different ways, through many different activities, approaches, assessments and last but not least, for many different reasons. Personally I believe that the best way to teach a language to someone else is through a balance of many different techniques and methodologies that can put together a good learning process according to the level and abilities of the student.
I want my students to learn English in a way that they can express themselves in that language; I want them to be able to understand the language in a functional way. Rules are important; they are after all what set a balance, an order, a restriction, and a way of doing things without having to wonder whether it is right or wrong; rules take away from your shoulders the weight of wondering and they clear up the right path. When we speak of rules in a linguistic concept, we speak of grammar; now, without grammar there is no clear way of putting a language together, none the less, I do not think grammar is needed to express ourselves to the world, to communicate; for this reason I believe that teaching a student who wants to express his or her ideas in English, will not need to have full knowledge of English grammar.
Teaching a language in a functional way allows the students to think in that language, with time they will be able to break that barrier of first translating things in their head from L1 to L2 and eventually form the concepts in their head in L2. Through several activities involving different teaching methodologies, a student can start making connections, associating concepts and remembering words in L2.
Once a person is able to understand and express their ideas in a certain language, they then can be able to understand grammar in a much easier way and also this knowledge of rules will be able to clear up many doubts that this person might have regarding their initial knowledge of that same language, like knowing the correct spelling of certain words, the right use of adverbs, the way of writing an essay, etc.
Having all of this in mind, my personal approach on what goals to tackle, functionality over grammar, it is all about what the student’s needs are. Before making any decisions on how to teach a student, what to teach, or how to assess him or her, I would first have in mind what is it that my student wants, what is he or she expecting to learn from me, does he want to be able to have a conversation in English? Is she interested in passing a specific exam with explicit required knowledge of English grammar? Or do my students just want someone who can provide a conversation in L2 in order to keep it fresh in their brains, to keep up with expressions and current colloquialisms? All of these questions must be asked right at the first encounter with the student, and the answers to these questions will help to shape up the learning process, the teacher’s role, the student’s one as well, and most importantly the goal that needs to be achieved.
Even though the teacher must adapt his role and his methods according to the student’s profile and goals, there is a structure for the class that can be very productive and effective in most cases. The key parts to a well-structured and productive class, in my opinion, are the following:
-activities that open a dialogue with the student in L2, this way the student is forced to think and therefore express himself in L2.
-obviously always to have exposure to new vocabulary, you can only keep on learning new things as long as you keep being exposed to things you don’t know.
-activities or games that help retain the new vocabulary, this way the students can understand clearly and remember those new words, this is very important in order for the students to be able to use the new vocabulary on their own in other situations.
-have visual aids for the students to correlate ideas with the world that surrounds them, what is really a “pencil” if we don’t think of it as that item we can grab and use to write down things, the best way to connect concepts and create ideas is through images or physical examples.
All of the elements above must be appealing to the students’ interests, age group and goals in order to keep them interested in the class and facilitate a positive learning process.
Having exposed the learners to L2, new vocabulary, ideas, concepts, and more, it is crucial to find some sort of assessment of the learning process and the learning outcome; this is the only way to know if the road the class is taking is going somewhere and if the learners are actually being able to learn from the classes.
I personally believe that the best way to assess the knowledge of someone’s language is through communication, I think making mistakes, or not having the perfect structure in L2 when talking is not as important as the message, is it going through? Are we getting to communicate in L2 and understand each other, I think the best way to assess a knowledge of a language, you could say I would apply a “continuous-functional assessment” to the students, asking questions, opening dialogues, etc. all in order to get their ideas out and see how good they are at it in L2, once the errors or weaknesses are spotted, then a different or specific approach for them can be modelled or maybe simply corrected at the moment, like pronunciation errors.
As I have been explaining all along the essay, it can be clear that the type of syllabus I would apply in most of my classes would be a function-based syllabus. There is no better way of learning a language than learning it through our own needs, I believe that once the communication basics are covered and the student is able to express his or her ideas, ask questions, reply to them, make demands, etc. all he or she would need next is the specific vocabulary to those specific ideas he or she wants to express.
For this same reason I do not believe in the use of L1 (mother tongue) in a class for teaching L2, this limits the student to think for him or herself in L2, this kind of approach, translating concepts, allows the student to make an association of the word in L1 to L2, which can be helpful sometimes, but in a function-based syllabus, it can be limiting for the learner, it can induce a “translator-mode” way of thinking and that is not my goal for my students, as explained before, I want them to think in L2 and express their ideas in L2, that is why they need to understand what they cannot yet understand, using their L2 knowledge as the vehicle for that goal. Once a person is able to question things and answer to those questions in L2, then he or she can improve and learn more on their own, making the world (TV, radio, music, books, newspapers, etc.) a classroom.
In conclusion, I am a teacher who believes that language is nothing more than a way of communication and therefore we need to approach it as such, learning it with communication itself. We can all learn rules but we will not know what to do with them if we do not know what they are for and how can they be applied, we need to learn a new language the same way we learned our first one, by expressing ourselves and making connections with the world that surrounds us and the concepts that we want to express. Once we can start expressing our ideas without any barriers, we can start polishing then our communication skills, perfecting that way our knowledge of L2, but none of this cannot be reached without first having a clear idea of how we can work together, teacher and student. Both the teacher and the learner play different roles, but still both roles must relate to each other in order to have understanding, motivation and interest in the lessons. When both roles are able to find a common ground, adapting methodologies according to the student’s needs, then the learning process becomes pleasant and productive, if we do not have a process that can be defined that way then we can encounter ourselves with a dark road that will lead the student nowhere, and at the end of the day, our main goal as teachers, is to make the student learn, no matter how long it takes, or how hard it can be for us, we need to focus on creating a process that the student can enjoy so that he or she can learn and in our case, be able to communicate his or her ideas in L2.